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3 Questions: Spiritual Formation in China


In the final segment of the “Walking with Leaders” series on ChinaSource Conversations, our monthly podcast, we looked at the spiritual formation of leaders. One of our guests was John, an expat and trained coach whose14 years of service in Asia have included facilitating retreats and leading people through creative spiritual exercises.

Here John shares his thoughts on spiritual formation among Christian leaders in China.

3 Questions

1. How did you get involved in spiritual formation in China, and why do you think it is important?

When we arrived in China I was tired. My wife and I had both completed grad school, I had been deeply involved in many ministry activities, and had been busy with preparations for our move to Asia. I welcomed the gift of being able to focus on one thing–language study. Those first couple years I found my whole life, particularly my inner life, beginning to slow down. A lot of my personal time with the Lord was focused on a slow, meditative, quiet reading of scripture and reflective prayer. At the same time a couple people came alongside and began mentoring me in this area, asking questions like, “What does the voice of God look like in your life? How is God loving you? How is he asking you to respond, and how are you receiving that invitation?”

Also in those early formative years in China, I watched the spiritual growth of our household helper, who was illiterate. Coming from an educated family, with a seminary degree, I realized that so much of our spirituality is education- and literature-based, yet God does not differentiate in his level of relationship with us based on our education. Watching our helper grow in her relationship with the Lord and hear his voice was a prophetic corrective in my own understanding of the key aspects of our spiritual journey. 

2. What is happening in spiritual formation in China? Are there any common elements?

The core aspect I see in China is spiritual retreats. These are different from what we’re accustomed to, which is often just another set of meetings or opportunities to train or to present content. The retreats I’m referring to are more reflective, more focused on rest and dealing with the epidemic of busyness and the disease of hurriedness that are so common in China. I also see integration of spiritual exercises that are focused on silence, solitude, and imagination prayer.

3. What aspects of Chinese spirituality do you find helpful in spiritual formation?

The ethic of hard work we often see in Chinese culture, when translated into spiritual disciplines, can result in people really “striving” well in the sense of Hebrews 4:11, which exhorts us to strive to enter into Christ’s rest. Given some gentle guidance, I’ve seen people really throw themselves into being attentive and being present with God. I believe this is an aspect of culture that God redeems and uses.

The other would be the legacy of Taoist, Buddhist and Confucian thought, all three of which appreciate solitude, quiet, and reflectiveness. I often find that when we use story-centered spiritual exercises it taps into that cultural heritage that is there, and they enter into the stories perhaps more readily or more naturally than we might think. I don’t have any research to back this up, but I wonder if there is something that is already present in Chinese culture that is there for God to redeem and point toward him.

For more from John and others on spiritual formation, including areas of resistance among leaders and how to break through these, check out the Spiritual Formation segment of “Walking with Leaders” on ChinaSource Conversations.

Image credit: The Path to Nowhere by Bridget Coila via Flickr.
Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton is the president of ChinaSource and the editor of the ChinaSource Quarterly. Prior to assuming his current position, he served from 1995 to 2000 as the managing director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton College. From 1987 to 1995 he served as founding US director of... View Full Bio